Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

It was all there – the smell, sounds and taste of the old West. Cowboys whistling, hollering, thundering hoof beats ahead of us, pounding their way down the mountainside, and an empty corral awaiting the arrival of a boisterous band of untamed horses.

In the winter we ran most of our saddle horses with this predominantly wild bunch, on the south side of Vagneur Mountain, which provided ideal, sunny grazing grounds. We weren’t necessarily unique in this management style, but well-spaced natural springs and generations of experience made us accurately good at it.

One winter, my dad kept talking about the colt he was expecting that spring out of one of his quarter-horse mares. This was eventually going to be my dad’s new mount, a big, strapping sorrel stallion, agile as a spider and fast enough to laugh at the wind. Kazan, he would be called, from “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights,” my father apparently under the spell of the seductive storyteller Shahrazad as much as her husband, the sultan Shahryar.

The ground shook violently under the hovering cottonwoods as the wild and upset herd roared into the corral, their bright eyes darting everywhere for an avenue of escape. Through gates used thousands of times for cows, we cut the untamed horses from our domestic stock and turned them back up the mountain, not to be seen for another year.

Almost immediately, it became clear that Kazan, the imagined future stud, was instead a sorrel filly, and in the swirling dust, my father’s dream was quickly extinguished. “Turn ’em out,” he said, and off they went, mother and daughter, not to be seen again until the next spring roundup.

“Since it’s a filly,” Dad said, “maybe you should call her Kasanna.” With that, my ownership was established. “Why not Kazanna?” I asked, to which the curtness of the reply made me realize I couldn’t possibly understand the finer points of the Arabic language nearly as well as my father who, as far as I knew, spoke only English. I walked off, pondering how solid my horsemanship skills might be.

It took three years, but finally the big boss thought it was time I started breaking my new horse. He gave me everything I needed – a bronc pen, corral, hay, grain, and plenty of discussion on ways to do this or that. Not once, though, did he ever come to see how I was doing, or how the filly looked under saddle. It was my project and he stayed out of the way.

There’s a difference between a horse that’s raised in the wild and one that grows up around humans. Kasanna was not fond of people in the beginning and was quite adept at showing off the skills she had learned protecting herself against intruders such as coyotes, bears, mountain lions and other such nuisances.

I’d been riding her for a couple of weeks without too much excitement when one evening, as I led her out the gate, she maliciously charged me, teeth bared, front feet striking at my head. I quickly pulled her around and got on, without further incident, but related the story to my dad later. “Don’t worry,” said the old man, uncharacteristically, “I’ll fix that.” I don’t know, Dad, you’ve stayed out of it so far.

The next afternoon, I rolled in from the hayfields, eager to ride my young horse. A quick stop at the house for a cold drink alerted me to blood and Dad’s note on the kitchen table: “Tony – had to go to town to get face stitched up. Kasanna got me.” She did, too.

We didn’t talk about it much, and the horse never attacked me again. My dad left me to my own devices the rest of the summer and life went on pretty much the same in the Woody Creek Canyon.